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Canzano: Oregon State and Washington State go to the mattresses
Beavers and Cougars fight for survival and control of Pac-12.
Oregon State and Washington State got ditched by 10 fellow members of the Pac-12. Those two face an uncertain future, an uphill climb and the sobering financial disadvantages of being left behind.
Now, they’re going to the mattresses.
The schools filed a complaint on Friday in Whitman County (Washington) Superior Court. They’ve named the Pac-12 and Commissioner George Kliavkoff as defendants. The lawsuit could best be titled: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
A hearing is scheduled for Monday.
The Pac-12 Network ought to televise it.
There are significant resources still buried in the Pac-12. OSU and WSU were left behind and they’d like to be left to harvest what’s left and rebuild the “Pac-2.” But they’ll apparently need a temporary restraining order to do that.
As the complaint points out when USC, UCLA and Colorado announced they were leaving the Pac-12, those schools surrendered their board seats. The three respective presidents and chancellors stopped attending board meetings and ceased voting on matters pertaining to the conference’s future.
Now, the presidents at WSU and OSU — Kirk Schulz and Jayathi Murthy — would like a table for two, please. What they don’t want is for the 10 departing members to continue to vote and make decisions that impact their ability to rebuild. And they certainly don’t want to see the departing schools vote to dissolve the conference and split the assets.
As Murthy said on Friday: “Oregon State and Washington State believe that we constitute the voting membership of the Pac-12 Board in its entirety — not the members who are leaving it.”
• Oregon State and Washington State aren’t trying to stop any of those 10 other members from leaving the Pac-12. That ship sailed when the schools announced publicly that they were going to the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12. But the Beavers and Cougars do want to establish clarity on who should be allowed to sit on the board of the Pac-12 and vote.
• Lawyers are going to get paid, be clear. Monday’s hearing is a pivot point for OSU/WSU, but it might as well be a launch point for legal billing. I hope someone is hydrating the General Counsels of the 12 universities. They’re about to run a legal triathlon. Said one source: “We’ve entered the lawyer/accountant phase of college football expansion.”
• The complaint states that a representative of a departing Pac-12 school threatened that the departing members were poised to take action to seize control of the Pac-12. The representative wrote: “It seems obvious that any nine members can declare the fate of the conference at any time.” That sure adds to the urgency, doesn’t it?
• George Kliavkoff and an “assistant” called a board meeting for next Wednesday, per the complaint. WSU and OSU understandably want to halt it.
• Kliavkoff casts an awkward figure in all of this. He’s still the commissioner. One who has been left to oversee the operations of a conference that won’t continue to exist in its current form beyond July 1, 2024. It was his job to keep the conference together and get a satisfactory media-rights deal. He failed and he’s now apparently not adequately serving the two members who are left behind.
• I suspect the only reason Kliavkoff hasn’t resigned or been fired is that he’s on a five-year contract that doesn’t end until July 1, 2026. He was paid $1.8 million in his first year on the job. He’ll make $3.6 million in 2023 and his contract will presumably be paid out.
• Officials at Oregon State and Washington State have both told me that Kliavkoff isn’t currently involved in their plan to rebuild the conference. Beavers AD Scott Barnes said: “George has not been involved in our path forward.”
• WSU athletic director Pat Chun told me on Friday: “The departing members of the Pac-12 voluntarily left the conference. They no longer have any right to determine the future of the Pac-12. WSU and OSU are committed to exploring all opportunities to benefit our current and future student-athletes. One of the opportunities to determine the future viability of the Pac-12. We need clarity on assets and liabilities so we can make informed decisions.”
• Oliver Luck, the consultant hired jointly by OSU and WSU, was in Corvallis on Wednesday. He met with lawyers and campus leaders, I’m told. Luck continues to be involved in an advisory role.
• There’s a pile of public empathy for the two left-behind schools. They got ditched. Everyone knows it. None of it was their fault. I’ve wondered for a while how a lawsuit might play when it comes to public relations. I suspect outsiders will view OSU-WSU’s position as what any school might reasonably do if put in the same position.
• The Mountain West Conference is closely tracking Friday’s development. Commissioner Gloria Nevarez has met in person with officials at OSU and WSU. The schools don’t currently appear interested in relegation and simply joining the MWC. A reverse merger of some kind could be on the table, though. Or maybe WSU and OSU simply try to rebuild the conference on their own.
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